The subjects of my photographs have temporarily died and come back to life. These survivors of death have had what are known as “Near Death Experiences (NDE),” a term coined by psychologist Dr. Raymond Moody in the 1970’s. During an NDE people have strange and incredible experiences they have trouble putting into words. They recall feelings of awe and peace that remain with them throughout their lives. These experiences are remembered to be very real – as something that actually happened – not a dream or cloudy memory.
My subjects have seen glimpses of what some call “the afterlife.” They have been to a place that is perhaps only slightly beyond the reach of our conscious waking experience. A place that may exist all around us and maybe we are all a part of, but are unable to see, touch or observe like we do all other things in our physical world.
Can we prove that these experiences were real? Perhaps we could if we did not have to use scientific methods that rely on physical observations. There are no physical observations available in the world of Near Death Experiences. But just because we can’t prove their existence doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. As one of my subjects, Molly, stated, when talking about her experience of being dead, “It’s not nothingness. I can’t prove that, but I can’t prove that I’m here either.” It seems that a lot is riding on the term ‘prove.’ What exactly is ‘prove’ referring to? In our society it refers to a proof, which is a rational scientific way of thinking.
Scientific thought was created by our minds to negotiate the finite world in which we operate on a daily basis. But what about the infinite world of space and time that lies outside of our understanding? What about those aspects of the mind that we don’t understand, like feelings, intuition, deja-vu and dreams? We should consider that science, which was created by us, mortal beings living in an infinite world, may be too simple a tool to understand all aspects of the world.
Perhaps we should explore research methods that aren’t based on physical observations and rational proofs. We may then be able to make serious progress in understanding those aspects of our lives that are pushed to the side of mainstream society. These parts of our lives are lumped into categories such as ‘para-normal’ because they can’t be understood in the mainstream context of rational scientific thought.
Here are their stories:
While living in Japan, Molly underwent surgery to have her gall bladder removed. She is not sure exactly what went wrong during the surgery, but the way the hospital staff was acting when she regained consciousness, she got the feeling that they were relieved she was alive.
During the surgery, Molly had an experience in which she felt that she was connected to a “stream of life.” She had no normal physical senses like sight, hearing or touch, but she knew that other people, beings or spirits surrounded her. She compares it to a deaf and blind person entering a room that can sense the presence of other people. Molly and company were moving somewhere together very fast, like they were all particles of light traveling through the universe. They were more than simply traveling together, they were somehow all connected. Suddenly, Molly was removed from the stream and was forced back into her body. She remembers a very painful sensation of re-entering her body and compared the mechanics of it to the funnel cloud of a tornado. It seemed like all of her energy was collected at the top of the tornado from the stream and then forced down into her body at the base of the tornado. At this point she remembers waking up during the operation much to the astonishment of the hospital staff. She was quickly re-sedated and the surgery continued. She thinks that her experience was a glimpse into what is happening all around us but that we aren’t typically aware of.
David returned from a road trip and collapsed on the floor of his garage after walking a few steps from his car. He went into the hospital for surgery to repair this sudden debilitating spinal condition. While recovering from surgery in the hospital, David became infected with a rare and deadly bacteria, the type usually only found in hospital environments. What was supposed to have been a two week hospital stay ended up being a sixth month long brush with death fighting the infection. They say that David flat-lined four times while he was suffering from the infection.
Once when he died, David remembers experiencing a very brightlight that was embracing, enveloping and warm. Even though the light was extremely bright, it was not blinding. It was a yellow light, like canary sunshine, not the white light he hears of people seeing when they die. The light itself superseded any desire for material things. It was all embracing and it made you want to join it. David remembers walking towards the light and recalls this being the last time he was able to walk, not when he was in his garage months earlier.
Christa joined a spontaneous peace march protesting the first Gulf War that occurred in Manhattan in the early 1990’s. She and her friends were overcome with a feeling to participate and found themselves in the crowd crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Security was happening on the go and the lack of organization permitted a drunk and confused driver to enter the roadway of the bridge and began driving through the crowd injuring dozens. Christa and a friend jumped over a concrete barrier onto a part of the bridge that was being repaired. Unluckily, Christa fell through hole in the roadway and began plummeting several stories to the ground below. Her friend, having landed safely on the bridge deck as planned, was wondering where Christa had disappeared to when he noticed the hole and saw her falling. He began the fifteen-minute journey off the bridge to the ground below to rescue her.
Christa was falling and flailing trying to grab something. She thought “Oh my God I’ve fallen off the Brooklyn Bridge, that’s the underside of the bridge!” Suddenly there was a whooshing sound like a parachute opening. Her arms were out by her sides and she was floating far above the ground under the bridge. She remembers looking around and thinking, “What’s going on? I’m floating, I’m hanging around in the air. I must be dead.” Christa was confused because she didn’t remember hitting the ground. Then she felt and heard a tremendous noise like an explosion or a loud scream. She saw a white rush of energy leave her floating body. To her, it looked like something from the movies Ghostbusters or Poltergeist. As it left her body, it seemed like it was comprised of every molecule of her body, but it was much more involved than merely molecules, it was every part of her life. She felt that this white energy was made up of who she was. She describes this separation as having been extremely physically painful. Then everything went black and she woke up in the hospital.
When he was a teenager, Scott and three friends were in a horrible car accident. They were driving down a windy road through a rural wooded area when a heated argument between the driver of the car and her boyfriend, another passenger, resulted in the car flipping end-over-end several times ejecting everyone except the driver. Lying on the ground after being thrown from the car, Scott remembers seeing a car pull up with two women in it, one dressed in white and one in black. The woman in white ran over to him while the woman in black called to her to leave everyone alone and said they should leave. The woman in white ignored her and Scott never saw the woman in black again. The woman in white, a beautiful blonde woman, went over to Scott and comforted him. His head had hit the rear bumper of the car when he was thrown out the rear windshield and he had serious injuries to his face and head. The woman held Scott’s head in her lap and stroked his face and head telling him that everything would be all right. He believed her and felt that he would survive the accident. The next time he saw the woman in white was several days later in the hospital. She came to visit him to make sure he was OK. He doesn’t remember much about her visit and if they even spoke - Scott was still heavily sedated from being treated for the serious injuries he sustained.
A witness to the accident, a neighbor, who called the emergency personnel to the site doesn’t remember seeing a car stop with women dressed in black and white. Furthermore, the witness doesn’t remember a person dressed in white staying with any of the victims comforting them until emergency crews arrived. Five years after the tragedy, the passengers of the car were together to discuss legal matters and recounted the accident. They had lost touch due to being isolated from each other while recovering from the life-threatening injuries, so this was the first time they were all together since the accident. Upon comparing notes, they all realized that they were each comforted by the woman in white at the same time at the scene of the accident. The woman had sat and remained with each person, held them, touched their wounds and told them everything would be OK. Also, each person remembers being visited in the hospital a few days later by the woman and, interestingly, each person was in a different hospital.
There is no record of this woman visiting the victims in the hospitals and no one else besides these young people ever saw her.